Sports

Canes video coaches also feel game pressure in the playoffs

Carolina Hurricanes’ video coach Chris Huffine sets up two laptops with video feeds to capture game action, as does fellow video coach L.J.Scarpace, left, prior to the Hurricanes’ game against the Washington Capitals on Saturday, April 20, 2018 at the Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. In the back of the room head coach Rod Brind’Amour confers with assistant coach Dean Chynoweth and goaltending coach Mike Bales while the players participate in pre-game skate.
Carolina Hurricanes’ video coach Chris Huffine sets up two laptops with video feeds to capture game action, as does fellow video coach L.J.Scarpace, left, prior to the Hurricanes’ game against the Washington Capitals on Saturday, April 20, 2018 at the Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. In the back of the room head coach Rod Brind’Amour confers with assistant coach Dean Chynoweth and goaltending coach Mike Bales while the players participate in pre-game skate. rwillett@newsobserver.com

It hasn’t happened to the Carolina Hurricanes in the playoffs, not after five games, but the moment still could be coming.

That moment when the Washington Capitals score a goal. When a Caps player appears to be offside before the goal. That moment when the Canes’ two video coaches, Chris Huffine and L.J. Scarpace, sense the clock ticking, Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour waiting and a lot at stake.

Or as Scarpace puts it, “The fastest 30 seconds ever.”

In the NHL, each team has one coach’s challenge that can be used in a game, contesting either goaltender interference or offside, and must be made roughly 30 seconds after a goal is scored.

If a challenge is made for goaltender interference and the initial good-goal call is upheld after review by the NHL Situation Room officials, the challenging team loses its one timeout in a game. But challenge offside and lose the challenge ...

“A terrible feeling,” Scarpace said. “It’s like putting a pin in your stomach.”

If a challenge for offside is lost, the timeout is lost and a two-minute delay-of-game penalty is called. Imagine the Caps both scoring a goal and then being awarded a power play after an unsuccessful challenge by Brind’Amour. That could decide a game in a series the Caps lead 3-2 after their 6-0 win at Capital One Arena on Saturday.

There was only one coach’s challenge in the first five games of the series -- in the first period of Game 2, when the Caps claimed Canes forward Saku Maenalanen interfered with goalie Braden Holtby as Lucas Wallmark scored. That challenge by Caps coach Todd Reirden was denied and the Caps forfeited their timeout in a game they won 4-3 in overtime.

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Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour talks with coach Jeff Daniels as his team watches a replay of a goal by Washington Capital’s Nicklas Backstrom (19) in the second period during game five of their first round Stanley Cup series against the Washington Capitals on Saturday, April 20, 2018 at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Huffine, a Greensboro native, is in his 19th season with the Hurricanes and was a member of the Canes’ 2006 Stanley Cup champions. He handles the pre-scout work, putting together scouting reports that break down the other team’s systems, tendencies, power plays, penalty killing, and presenting a pre-scout video for the players.

“Not long, maybe two minutes, four or five clips,” Huffine said. “With Rod it’s not about the other team. It’s about us. From day one it’s been about us, video of us, how we do things, what we want to do. He’s very positive.”

Before coming to the Canes two years ago, Scarpace spent 13 seasons with the University of Michigan hockey program working under legendary Wolverines coach Red Berenson.

During games, Huffine is flagging different plays to be replayed and reviewed during the two intermission breaks and then after the game. Scarpace operates a Hawk-Eye replay system, studying every zone entry for a possible offside call.

When an opposing team is offside on the zone entry and then holds the puck in the zone for, say, 10 or 20 seconds before scoring, that’s an easy call. But there are times when a quick stretch pass is made to an attacking player hovering at the Carolina blue line, who then streaks in and scores.

Boom, goal, clock running on a potential challenge.

“You see the pass and you hear the horn sound and it’s a terrible feeling,” Scarpace said. “You’re scrambling to find the best angle of the play. You’re trying to get the right angle to make the right call.

“Sometimes, we don’t get all the TV replays right away. People at home might be saying, ‘Oh, that’s clear’ but we may not see that angle until late in the process. It can be a little tricky. You then give the best opinion you have.”

That happened at Toronto late in the regular season, with the Canes fighting for a playoff spot. The Maple Leafs’ William Nylander scored on a breakaway five minutes into the game but the play was challenged by Brind’Amour and Nylander was ruled offside on the entry.

No goal. The Canes went on to win 4-1.

“A big momentum turner,” Scarpace said. “That felt good.”

The Canes are 3-for-3 on offside challenges this season, Huffine said.

The video coaches, in an office near the locker room, are in constant contact with the bench and assistant coach Jeff Daniels, who wears an ear piece. Goaltending coach Mike Bales, usually seated in the upper level of arenas during games, is the Canes’ “eye in the sky” and also has Daniels’ ear.

Video monitors are positioned at NHL benches, allowing Brind’Amour and the assistant coaches to quickly check the replays.

“If you have good people around you, it makes the job a lot easier,” Brind’Amour said.

An insight into Brind’Amour’s style of coaching is at PNC Arena there is no coach’s office -- that is, an office reserved for the head coach. There is a coaches’ office, with everyone together in one room, including Huffine and Scarpace.

“Our war room,” Huffine said. “Roddy’s belief and trust in our team (and) staff is one of the reasons for success.”

Huffine has been on-board for much of the hockey technology evolution, from the camcorders and VHS tape decks he once used when working with the Greensboro Monarchs of the ECHL to the high-speed, high-definition digital systems in use today.

“Digital and HD revolutionized the game,” Huffine said of the technological advances.

It’s possible to break down so much video for the players -- Sebastian Aho, for example, might want to see all of his shifts from Game 2 against the Caps. Jordan Staal might like to see all his faceoffs.

The players have watched video on monitors, iPads, laptops. That’s changed, too.

“They want to watch everything on their phone,” Huffine said, smiling. “They do everything else on their phone. So we send it for them to see on their phones.”

He’s not going to challenge that.

In more than 30 years at The N&O, Chip Alexander has covered the N.C. State, UNC, Duke and East Carolina beats, and now is in his 11th season on the Carolina Hurricanes beat. Alexander, who has won numerous writing awards at the state and national level, covered the Hurricanes’ move to North Carolina in 1997 and was a part of The N&O’s coverage of the Canes’ 2006 Stanley Cup run.
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